SYCAMORE – Wet weather is keeping Illinois farmers out of their fields and slowing the harvest. To help them out, Gov. Bruce Rauner has declared a harvest season emergency, which will allow trucks hauling agriculture-related products to exceed the posted weight limit on roads.
“We ship almost everything by semi,” said Mariam Wassmann, director of information for the DeKalb County Farm Bureau.
She said the wet weather in October and November, including a half-inch of rain received over this past weekend, has kept fields muddy. Driving heavier trucks into the muddy fields would tear them up, she said, so the semitrailers stay on the road, and the grain is brought to them.
Farmers are behind in their harvesting, based on recent history. According to a news release from the governor’s office, Illinois farmers are 17 percent behind where they were a year ago in harvesting, and 11 percent behind the five-year average.
“The corn harvests in the northwest, northeast and east regions are especially hard-hit,” the release says. “Harvesters in a variety of crops made up ground toward the end of October, but early delays still are causing backups in the transportation chain.”
By increasing the load limits on roads, more grain can be moved faster.
Wassmann said the delay is unusual, but not unprecedented.
“Come January, we get pretty worried,” she said.
This is the first time a governor has declared such an emergency, although a law passed in August made it easier for the governor to make the declaration. The declaration allows trucks hauling agricultural products to exceed the posted load limit for the roads by 10 percent.
Haulers must apply for a permit for the increased load limit and will need to get permission from each road district whose roads they plan to use. Township road commissioners will grant permits for township roads, DeKalb County highway department for county highways, and the Illinois Department of Transportation for state roads.
The average motorist probably won’t see an effect on the roads this year, DeKalb County Engineer Nathan Schwartz said, but the extra weight will increase wear and tear.
“It will shorten the lifespan of those roads,” he said.
He said the number of small cracks in the road will increase and, through the freeze-thaw cycle, will expand them. But that could take years.
“You won’t notice them right away,” he said, adding that the increase in load limits would not affect each road the same way.
Schwartz said the state-mandated load limit for roads is 80,000 pounds, and has been since 2009, but that doesn’t mean all roads will have that limit. The previous load limit was 73,280 pounds, but when the state mandated the increase, it did not provide funding and allowed road districts to post lower limits until it could catch up to the new limit. Older roads, having suffered wear and tear, will also have lower load limits placed on them by the engineers or road districts that oversee them.
The load-limit increase resulting from the emergency declaration doesn’t apply to bridges, because it is much more costly and time-consuming to repair and replace bridges, Schwartz said.
Schwartz said law enforcement is in charge of enforcing the load limits.
“They have their little tricks,” he said, to see if a truck is empty or heavy.